Corey Mintz and Fred Morin’s advice for chefs might equally please guests.
Corey Mintz is writing some very interesting pieces about the restaurant business on the TV Ontario website (here). On January 2nd he posted one in response to growing concerns about labour costs in the industry in the wake of the provincial minimum wage hike. It’s headlined ‘Restaurants have gotten too fancy for their own good‘ and quotes Joe Beef’s Chef Fred Morin’s concerns that too many high end kitchens are doing too many things:
As a leader in Canada’s restaurant industry, Fred Morin — co-owner of celebrated Montreal restaurants Joe Beef, Liverpool House, and Le Vin Papillon — is someone chefs tend to listen to. But when it comes to the issue of labour, the challenge of finding, hiring, paying, and retaining good cooks, his fans are not going to like what he has to say: restaurants have become too fancy for their own good.
“It’s getting too complicated,” says Morin. “Part of it is the chef’s ego. How many people work for nothing just so a guy can see himself in the pages of the New York Times? There’s a lot of vanity in that.”
Mintz extends Morin’s argument, that there is too much superfluous labour in too many kitchens, by arguing that the 21st century trend for high-end restaurants to make nearly everything in house, from bread and charcuterie to mustard, might be counter-productive and causing untenable, and unfair labour demands on kitchen staff. Morin backs up the argument by pointing out that when France introduced the 35 hour work week, restaurants shifted to provisioning to keep withing the law.
As a civilian I have no idea if the Mintz-Morin plan makes good business sense, or would save kitchen workers from unfair labour demands. But I do think most consumers of fine dining restaurants would be just as happy to have our bread and pasta made by a reputable supplier than in house, 90% of the time. One of Morin’s quotes in Mintz’s piece really caught my attention:
“Sometimes I look at a menu, and I ask, why is there 10 different peeled vegetables on this one plate?” he says. “Maybe it could be charcoal-roasted potatoes with beer cheese, and that would be a simple dish.”
Amen. I have written before about what I call the Shewry Test, so named after Chef Ben Shewry of the celebrated Attica restaurant in Australia. We were discussing a meal I had had recently at another Top 50 restaurant and I was struggling to remember what I’d eaten. He shrugged and and asked how good could a meal be if I couldn’t remember what I’d eaten? Indeed. How could I remember which 10 vegetables were on Fred Morin’s apocryphal plate? I spent a week in Italy recently, eating very well, and the dishes I remember best were the pasta’s with three or maybe four ingredients, the fresh truffles, and the season’s new olive oil. From my last trip to France, what I remember best were equally simple dishes, like a veal stew or a well made omelette.
Irrespective of my tastes, restaurant cost are rising It’s not just the minimum wage hike, as considerable as it is, but property taxes are increasing as well, say nothing of food costs and whatever else the market has in store. At the same time, new scrutiny is being put on labour practices and workplace conditions in the industry as it professionalizes further and catches up to the standards of this century. Something will have to give. Corey Mintz and Fred Morin have a solution, and I suspect it’s one most consumers would be more than pleased with.